The Playgoer: Slight update at NYTW.org

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Monday, April 10, 2006

Slight update at NYTW.org

No, no new production. But a reading this coming Monday. Of a political play, no less. Directed by Moises Kaufman, no less. Daring? Well...it's by Larry Gelbart.

Oh, and it will cost you $1500 to go. That's how much it costs to belong to, wait for it, The Society of Repeat Defenders. A funny epithet, I imagine, when it was hatched at the board table way back when. (As a more affluent counterpart to the struggling artists of the "Usual Suspects"?) Or even intended to be heroic?

By their commitment, these individual donors have taken a leadership role in helping us develop new, challenging work and support the artistic growth of a
diverse group of emerging playwrights, actors, and directors.
Too bad it has now taken on an all too literal meaning. For the NYTW apologists appear condemned to "defend" ad nauseum the inexplicable and inexcusable actions of its leaders.

I only hope that some of the few "Defenders" who are actually working theatre artists--like Julie Taymor or Jon Robin Baitz--will communicate, publicly or privately, a wish to withhold future donations until NYTW resets course on free speech and truly challenging theatre.

Where will the invasion of corporate-speak into our theatres stop?

One of the unofficial NYTW representatives at Friday's Barnard panel, by the way, told us that she had documentation (but not handy) to show that the NYTW Board formally agreed back in February to stand by whatever Jim Nicola decided to do with "Rachel Corrie," or words to that effect. In other words, don't blame the Board. Not that it really matters in the big picture, but I'm not holding my breath over seeing any documentation or transparency at all released from this theatre. Six weeks and counting...

9 comments:

George Hunka said...

You're kidding. Larry Gelbart? Larry (M*A*S*H [the awful TV show, not the movie with the screenplay by Ring Lardner Jr., who held authentic radical credentials, anyway], Tootsie, not to mention Blame It on Rio) Gelbart? With political playwrights like Dario Fo in Italy and Barker and Berkoff in England and God knows how many dozens of fine American political playwrights who can't get readings in this country?

Larry Gelbart? This is truly insult heaped on insult, in a great, big, steaming pile.

Dr. Cashmere said...

What your post only hints at, but which is sort of repulisve, is that the exlusivity of the reading is explained as being "because of the limited seating."

As if the most natural way to deal with seating limitations is to have a donation-based cut-off. (And keep in mind: this isn't a benefit or fundraiser or "gala concert performance" we're talking about. This is a reading for crying out loud.) Talk about putting your donors first...

What's next? Skyboxes? Big contributors get to veto one production each season? Oh, wait.

The Playgoer said...

George has now gone off on a great rant about this at Superfluities. I heartily recommend:
http://www.ghunka.com/index.cgi/Theater/Politics/further.html

I suppose one of the most insulting things about this that it's on the website at all! I mean, don't they have a mailing list for these donors? Since when do you broadcast something like this to the world and then say, "Sorry. You can't come." What a tease.

Not that I'm saying I want to go, of course. The event comes to down to: rich liberals laughing at Bush. Via a script by one of the most successful TV writers in Hollywood.

I wonder how Moises Kaufman feels about all this...

Dr. Cashmere said...

Playgoer,

1) Why is Moises Kaufman allowing himself to get mixed up in this?

2) Any more theatre artists among the "Defenders"? It would be interesting to have a complete list.

3) Can you confirm or deny the persistent rumor that Doug Wright has contracted an accute, six-week case of laryngitis?

Anonymous said...

After Corrie was cancelled, The Seven ended and the theater went dark. Since then, they have announced big ticket benefits for both Rent and now this reading.

My theory is that they don't have enough time to mount another production and are trying to make up the lost revenue with these benefits.

The Playgoer said...

I should have mentioned that those names of the "Defenders" are available in any NYTW program. (But not online, hence no link.) I didn't recognize any other famous names.

Doug Wright is indeed on the Board. So one assumes he's ponied up more than $1500 in his time, but I don't know the rules of the house there.

And while I like the theory they need to do these things to recover lost revenue, to be fair the Rent thing seems to have been planned well in advance. Still, the Gelbart reading is news to me and your theory is as good as any, Anonymous.

Dr. Cashmere said...

Just to be clear, though: The Gelbart reading doesn't seem to be a fundraiser so much as an exclusive event for people who have already given big money.

My hunch: It's an opportunity for NYTW to gather some of it's heavy-hitters together in an informal setting, so Nicola et. al. can take their temperature.

damien said...

I have no idea whether Larry Gelbart's new play is good or not (Gelbart has written some sharp comedy before, and I'm not prepared to dismiss him on the basis of the fact that he created the series M*A*S*H 35 years ago), but even if the play proves to be awful, I'm wary of going down a road at the end of which any playwright who participates in an NYTW fundraiser, or has his work produced there, or any director who directs that work, goes on the enemies of Rachel Corrie/friends of censorship list. Unless people really want NYTW to die (which I don't think anyone does) as a result of this, or Jim Nicola to be forced out of his job by an unspoken general strike against NYTW as long as he's there (which I know some people do), I think we have to exculpate Gelbart and Moises Kaufman here. Whatever their faults, they didn't cancel "Rachel Corrie", and to suggest that anyone who gives money to NYTW or works with them right now is endorsing Nicola's terrible decision rather than helping to ensure the survival of a theater that has been important and one hopes will be again may be letting justifiable outrage slop over into dogmatism.

Rachel Corrie is almost certainly not going to happen at NYTW; I can't imagine the Royal Court doing it there even if NYTW begged. So I'm not sure in what way the theater can "reset course on free speech" that would end an opprobium on giving money to it, but I'd like to know some specifics, since killing a theater because it killed a play is not likely to help the cause of producing adventurous or risky work in New York City. If people want Nicola fired, they should say so explicitly. But if not, since the Workshop has now borne an avalanche of bad press and Nicola's reputation has been catastrophically damaged--and I'm asking this seriously--at what point do you decide that the punishment has been sufficient? And the answer really can't be "Not until I win."

freespeechlover said...

No, the answer is not "Not until I win." The answer is to keep noting the contradictions in the NYTW's action and rhetorical moves. That way, you have an archive of those moves, which by the way, are completely predictable to anyone who has dealt with anything that can be tainted as "anti-Israel" in the U.S. And you know them and can advise the next theater director as to how to operate--namely, you don't back down but continue to have your own public relations line that says, "we are a theater and will continue to operate under normal theater protocols. Otherwise, we may satisfy one side but lose credibility among the professional community among which we work." And you keep repeating it, over and over and over again. You do not get caught in other people's terms by repeating your mantra. Also, you remind people that they are indeed free to protest as long as they do not interfere with the rights of theater goers to see the production. That's it. If you stick to it, eventually people either tire or they have a picket line, but that brings more people to the theater. But you have to have the kind of personality that can handle conflict as well as have some people who are knowledgeable about how supporters of Israel in the U.S. sometimes operate and how NOT to get caught in "dialogue" with them that is in fact a monologue often based on all kinds of rubbish that Israeli scholars themselves no longer hold to be true.